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vine appointment explained, enforced, and illustrated; read it in our families and to our servants; circulate it to the utmost of our power among our brethren of mankind, and attract their attention to it by the sweetness of our tempers and the purity of our lives.
THE DUTY WHICH CHRISTIANS OWE TO THE HOLY SCRIPTURES.
COL. III. 16.-Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom,
WE have discoursed largely on the divine authority and various use of the holy Scriptures. We have earnestly exhorted men of every description, into whose hands this book comes, to treat it with that reverence and attention which its truth and importance demand. But there remains something yet to be done, and that is, to assist the sincere Christian with some seasonable advice on the interesting question, How he may best use this book to the salutary purpose of his instruction, edification, and comfort? To which end I have chosen the words just read.
The phrase of the word of Christ may be understood either restrictively, of the discourses he himself delivered during his personal ministry here on earth; or more largely, of the holy Scriptures in general.
Our Saviour's sermons on various occasions, and to numerous auditories; his familiar discourses with the apostles and other intimate friends; and his answers to the captious questions of his enemies, with the reproofs that accompanied them, are particularly and accurately reported by the Evangelists.
These ought therefore to be frequently read, diligently considered, and carefully treasured up in our memories; for surely no man ever spake like him a. The truths he delivered were most important, no less interesting to us than to his immediate disciples. Nor was the manner of his delivering them a circumstance unworthy of either their or our notice.
A friend of Jesus must feel pleasure in figuring to himself the person, the voice, the attitude of Christ, and every other matter related concerning his public preaching and private discourses. If the men of Nazareth, stupid as they were, fastened their eyes upon him as he spake, and wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth b; how delighted must the Christian be while in his meditations, mingling with the multitude, he gazes upon the countenance, and hangs upon the lips of his divine Master! The friend of the bridegroom, says John the Baptist, which standeth and heareth him, rejoiceth greatly because of the bridegroom's voice and he adds, this my joy is fulfilled c. So may the Christian express himself in hours of extraordinary devotion. Yea, some good men in a kind of ecstacy have cried out with the apostles, We beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth d.
But I see no reason why the word of Christ is not to be understood of the Scriptures in general. Of him the Bible principally treats. To him, the Messiah, its doctrines and laws, its rites and ceremonies, its histories and prophecies, have all a direct or more remote reference. Nor can we conceive rightly of any of them, much less of their connection and mutual dependance, if he is shut out from our view. It is also to be remembered, that the holy Scriptures were written by the Spirit of Christ. So it is expressly said that the Spirit of Christ which was in the prophets testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow e.' And it was by the same Spirit the evangelists and apostles were instructed to write the Gospels and Epistles. So that the Bible
a John vii. 46.
c John iii. 29.
el Pet. i. 2.
b Luke iv. 20, 22.
d John i. 14.
from the beginning to the end may with the strictest propriety be denominated the word of Christ.
Now the apostle admonishes us in the text to let the word of Christ, that is, the Bible, dwell in us richly in all wisdom. The amount of which advice is,
I. That we make the Bible our own;
II. That we on no account part with it; and,
III. That we improve it to the best and noblest purposes. Each of these heads of advice I propose to consider and enforce.
I. It should be our anxious concern to make the word of God our own, that is, to understand it—and enter into the spirit of it. Let us begin,
FIRST, With the understanding Scripture.
This is absolutely necessary to our receiving benefit from it. Many, it is not to be doubted, mistake the sense of Scripture; yea some wrest it to their own destruction a. I propose therefore to point out to you the temper of mind with which we should set about the study of the Bible;-and then to lay down some rules for fixing the meaning of it, and enabling us to form a right judgment of its leading truths.
1. Watch against prejudices which before you are aware may pervert the plain meaning of what you read.
The will hath a great influence on the judgment; and that being indisposed, this is often thereby obstructed in its operations. The renewed mind is indeed subjected to the authority of God. Yet pride and pleasure, the prevailing passions of human nature, will sometimes cast a mist before the eyes of good men themselves, and in a degree warp if not absolutely pervert their judgment. These passions therefore must be held under the severest restraint.
But there are other prejudices less criminal, yet of a tendency that should be watched with a jealous eye; I mean prejudices of education, and which arise from a partiality in favour of the good understanding of those with whom we happen to be connected.
It must be acknowledged these prejudices are very natural, and have their use if directed to their proper object. Which
a 2 Pet. iii. 16.
I the rather observe as there are too many young people who, from a wish to be accounted men of sense, hastily renounce the religious opinions in which they were educated, without being able to give any satisfactory reason for their conduct. But such persons justly merit contempt. They are the dupes of unmanly affectation and conceit, if not of more base and criminal passions. How senseless the conclusion !— "Because such and such principles were held by my ancestors, therefore I am to presume they are not true." If this reasoning were admitted, it would cease to be the duty of parents to instruct their children in the principles of religion, truth and error would be confounded, and all occasion for the exercise of private judgment superseded. Partiality in favour of the wisdom and piety of our parents is a commendable passion. And as it ought to hold us back from treating the religious profession of our ancestors with contempt, so it may be of use to dispose us the more seriously to enquire into the grounds and reasons of that profession. In the mean while, if they lived holily and died comfortably in the faith of those doctrines they taught us, I can see no harm in presuming that possibly they may be true.-But to return to our argument,
These prejudices are hurtful when they preclude enquiry, throw the mind out of that balance which ought to be observed in the investigatiou of truth, and incline it to put a forced construction upon the plain language of Scripture. They are then real evils, and ought to be guarded against with the greatest caution. For if our faith is pleasing to God and useful to ourselves, it must stand on the ground not of human but divine testimony. And there is the greater reason for this caution, as it is to be feared the religion of too many people, through prejudice, sloth, and passion, hath no other foundation than that of implicit faith. Happy the man who reads his Bible divested of prejudice, and sincerely desirous of following
wherever truth shall lead him!
2. Let us be humble and modest in our enquiries about divine truth.
God is an infinitely great and glorious Being: we should lay it down therefore as a principle never to be departed from,
that to his will, however signified to us, we are bound to pay entire and unlimited obedience. His essence is incomprehensible, and his thoughts and ways are often very different from ours. Angels are incompetent to the full investigation of questions respecting the nature and operations of the Deity: how much more we! What a reverential awe of God then should possess our minds when enquiring about his nature and will! And how deeply sensible should we be of our liableness through various causes to err !
If we are vain of our understanding, it is scarce to be doubted that our speculations will mislead us. Humility and modesty are inseparable ingredients of such free enquiry as promises success. And where these tempers are cherished, enquiry will not be pushed beyond the bounds which right reason hath fixed. Of this mistake some have been guilty, and through an eager desire of knowing what the human intellect is incapable of comprehending, have precipitated themselves into the depths of scepticism, till at length they have come to question their own existence. Nor shall we, if modest and humble, expect a kind of evidence on any subject which its nature will not allow. How absurd to require mathematical demonstration in questions of moral truth! To demand the testimony of our own senses to facts which, if known and believed at all, must be received on the testimony of others! And to require a miracle to convince us of truths, sufficiently attested to satisfy any sober enquirer! Moderation therefore should be observed in all our researches after divine knowledge.
And if a proposition after the most painful examination remains doubtful, we should modestly call in to our assistance the judgment of others; and give that weight to their decisions which their character for wisdom and piety demands, not suffering at the same time our judgment and conscience to be overawed by any human authority whatever. Such conduct is so far from being an argument of weakness, that it will ever be considered by wise and good men, as a proof both of sound sense and genuine religion.
3. The duties of diligence and perseverance are also to be recommended.